Bum raps aren’t always fair. One way or the other, certain aspects of the beer world are given negative connotations they don’t really deserve. I’ve long been an apologist for the shaker pint, that sturdy, versatile work horse so maligned by the snobs. I don’t think the three tier system’s such a bad thing, either, as it helps to level the playing field and give more opportunity to the little guys. I understand people’s criticism of these entities, but can also see the good they offer.
Some bum raps come from misunderstanding or guilt by association. What does the word ‘adjunct’ conjure for you? Not long ago, the word became affixed to a style of beer that only recently had to be distinguished & renamed, squeezed between “American” & “Lager”. American Adjunct Lager is, I believe, meant to be a value-neutral descriptor, indicating the kind of traditional corn- or rice- infused beer your grandfather (& most of America) drinks. But let’s face it - it’s pretty much a bowdlerism for “shitty industrial beer”.
The word “adjunct” became taboo not because adjuncts are inherently bad, but because craft fans saw them being abused & came to assume that the sole purpose of using adjuncts was to thin the flavor & cheapen the beer. The Brewers’ Association, up until last year, excluded from the definition of “craft brewery” any brewer whose flagship contained adjuncts. The tent has since been expanded – “traditional” now denotes A brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation.
innovative? Huh? Anyway, craft brewing now includes those “adjunct brewers” that were theretofore verboten, which essentially means that any domestically-owned brewery making under 6,000,000 barrels a years is a craft brewery.
But despite being tied to a stigmatized indigenous beer style, adjuncts are not the enemy of good beer. They don’t exist solely for the purpose of cheapening beer (though have been misused to this effect). The definition of an “adjunct” in brewing is any source of fermentable sugar other than malt. This includes corn and rice, yes, but also unmalted oats, rye, wheat, barley, syrups, honey, etc. Oatmeal stouts are “adjunct beers”, yet you don’t see them scorned as “English adjunct stouts”. Lambics contain unmalted wheat, yet you don’t see “Belgian adjunct sour ale” being thrown around. Many, many beloved Belgian ales use candi sugar, yet you’d never see someone disparage Westy 12 as a “Trappist adjunct ale”. Many, many great beers rely on adjuncts to enhance their character, not detract from it, yet we still have this Reinheitsgebot-fueled puritanism that disregards the full breadth of brewing ingredients.
To be clear, not every ingredient added to a beer outside of water, yeast, malt, & hops is an adjunct – they have to have some level of fermentable carbs. Coffee, spices, orange peel, even lactose, for instance, are not fermentable & thus aren’t considered adjuncts. There’s some gray area with fruit, chocolate, and other additives with sugar, depending on how much they actually contribute to the fermentables in the beer. So adjuncts are neither just
corn and rice, nor are they everything-but-the-kitchen-sink.
That said, even the classic “adjunct lagers” were not intended to be cheap, thin, and watery – adjuncts were actually employed to improve
the beer, as domestic 6-row malt didn’t have what it took on its own to make a decent pilsner. Rice was actually more expensive than barley in the day, and was what it took in the 19th
century to emulate Czech pilsners with ingredients in the states. What’s transpired since with these progenitors is a different story, but it’s not the adjunct’s fault. Maybe the verbiage will change, but I think it’s wise to think twice before throwing a cornerstone of brewing technique & history under the bus.
Thanks to The Oxford Companion to Beer, John Palmer's How to Brew, & Maureen Ogle's Brewing Ambition for some helpful info.